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Helping others dampens the effects of everyday stress: Study

Feeling down? Just move out and help strangers or known people and there goes your stress away, say researchers armed with new findings in a study.

Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine exxplains: "Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days."

Insteaad of expecting others to show and extend social support when you are feeling stressed, be proactive and do things for others which you may expect from others when you are down, suggest researchers. "The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door over the next month," Ansell said. "You feel just a little bit better."

Experiments have shown that providing support can help individuals cope with stress, increasing their experiences of positive emotion. To investigate whether this holds true in the context of everyday functioning in the real world, Ansell and co-authors Elizabeth B. Raposa (UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine) and Holly B. Laws (Yale University School of Medicine) conducted a study in which people used their smartphones to report on their feelings and experiences in daily life.

A total of 77 adults, ranging from 18 to 44 years old, were examined and the results showed that helping others boosted participants’ daily well-being. A greater number of helping behaviors was associated with higher levels of daily positive emotion.

The participants’ helping behavior also influenced how they responded to stress, the lower positive emotion and higher negative emotion is linked directly to those who reported less-than-usual levels of helping behavior. "It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences," says Ansell.

The study has been published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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